Can you imagine a household without a woman? Well this is the case in “Two and a Half Men”. It is an American television sitcom, with Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones as the main characters. This sitcom began showing in 2003, with the plot surrounding Charlie Harper – a jingle writer (Charlie Sheen), his uptight brother, Alan (Jon Cryer) and Alan’s son, Jake (Angus T. Jones). Charlie enjoyed his carefree life, but things began getting complicated when Alan gets divorced and moves, along with Jake, into Charlie’s beach front Malibu house. This basically was the premise, up until the ninth season. The plot now followed Charlie’s death, and Alan trying to move on with his life after the death. He is helped by his new “best friend”, Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher), who also has his own problems; that of a bad divorce. Walden, Alan and Jake eventually get closer, even becoming close friends, and forming a surrogate family unit. I chose to analyze this television show as I felt it is a successful comedy with many hidden meanings pertaining to larger meaning, and universal commentary on the human condition, particularly the American society and its societal norms.
The show starts off with Alan moving in with Charlie, after his wife divorced him and kicked him out. What makes matters worse is that Alan was the one who paid for the house. Right from the outset, one can see that this sitcom contains many examples of societal norms regarding sex and gender.
Two and a Half Men makes women out to be objects of sexual pleasure for Charlie, the main character, and then later for Walden. Even the theme song, ‘men, men, manly men” suggests the show will center on the theme of gender stereotypes.
Charlie Harper is portrayed in the show as a very masculine man, according to the American stereotype. By this I mean he drinks and smokes a lot, as well as sleeps with tons of random women, and he just splashes his money around in order to get what he wants. He also drives a Jaguar and has a large, Malibu beach house. All this coincides with his confident demeanor. Alan however, is the complete opposite. He would be considered a slightly feminine male based on the American stereotype. This is so as he is weak minded and even has trouble with women. His trouble with women is made quite obvious from the outset, having been divorced by his “overpowering” wife. Other contrasting traits when compared to Charlie include, he drinks weak “feminine” drinks, his car is by no means comparable to Charlie’s as it is low end and always has mechanical trouble, and always seems to need to borrow money from Charlie. To add insult to injury, Jake, his own son, does not really respect his manhood. In the American society, most males look up to Charlie, as this is what the stereotypical masculine man is, while they try not to be like Alan. Being a fair representation of society, and being a comedy, the points come across easily.
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The second point I would like to touch on is Jake and the various views of masculinity that are constantly being thrown at him. His view of gender is constantly being changed as a result of his interactions with his father and uncle. Seeing as though they both love Jake, there are only looking out for him, by constantly trying to mold him into what each thinks is the correct form of masculinity. However, since they are two “different versions of men”, they often contradict each other. The main thing Charlie tries to instill in him is how to be better with girls. However, Jake also indirectly learns something else from his uncle; that to an extent, he does not want to be like him, as Charlie ends up dying a lonely man, even though he had so many pointless relationships with several random women. This swayed him to more follow the path of his father and care more about having a family than money. Similar to how Jake is being influenced, Charlie was also influenced by his mother. She too uses her money to get whatever she wants, in addition to using her body. Her actions are so bad sometimes, that she was even referred to as “the mother of all cougars”. Charlie is therefore just passing the traits which he learned from his mother down to Jake. Jake now has to make a decision. He must either follow Charlie and his beliefs, therefore conforming to what society says is masculine, or try to emulate his father, who of course does not worry much about what society says. However, he has to follow one of those paths, while simultaneously taking into consideration what his mother thinks masculinity is. To a lesser extent, there are also the norms of the other boys at school that he has to keep in mind. Many young males in the American society have this same problem. They are being pressured by their peers as well as by their family, and must make a decision. By presenting this in a comedy, it is easy for males of this age group to grasp what is occurring in the show and relate it to their life.
My third point is on classing people socially, and the advantages and disadvantages of this. It is clear that Alan and Charlie grew up in an upper class family. Alan is a chiropractor. Throughout the show, he is ridiculed that he is not a real doctor, which goes along with the “feminine” jokes. However, he still enjoys the benefits that come along with being in the upper class as he lives with his brother, even without paying rent. In Charlie’s eyes, nothing is too expensive; he spends whenever he feels like. Most times he spends on pointless things such as alcohol, prostitutes and trips to Vegas. He is able to do all of this as a result of being in the upper class, which coincides with him not being limited monetarily. It is believed that the United States operates under the myth that they all live in a class society, and there is clear evidence in the show. [Langston, 75]. Jake represents the stereotypical upper class teenager. Similar to the upper class teenagers in the American society, he is free living without a care in the world and puts out little effort when it comes to his schoolwork. As with Charlie and his behavioral traits, Jake probably acts this way because of his social standing and because he is male. In the American society, it is believed by some people that males are not expected to do as well as females in school.
In my opinion, the show accurately represents the notions and ideas of what society is, and how people within the American society act. By this, I mean there are people that represent each of the three social classes. For example, Charlie is upper class, Alan is middle class, and Berta, the housekeeper, is lower class. Despite the difference in class, they all live “happily” together and socialize well with each other. You do not get the feeling that any character is trying to keep the other down. Even Berta, although she is at the opposite end of the social class hierarchy, she is treated as if she is in the same social class. This is probably as a result of each character respecting each other and knowing that they cannot do without one another; Berta needs the job as it is her only source of income, while Charlie really has no idea how to do any housework whatsoever. However, one definitely benefits more than the other, that being Berta, as making a living heavily outweighs Charlie’s needs in this case, and Charlie knows this. There are a few moments in the show where she stands down, probably as a result of this. This is actually similar to what happens in the United States. The upper class often use their power to keep the other classes down and in their place.
The show tries to depict gender and social issues, but there are instances where they intersect and influence each other. For example, being both male and highly affluent, Charlie is better off than most people in the United States.
The final point I would like to touch on is privileges. As stated by Dictionary.com, a privilege is a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantage of most. In the show it is clear that Alan, Charlie, their mother, and Jake all enjoy their privileges, though in different ways. In the American society, the male is the dominant group, and Charlie, Alan, and Jake all take advantage of this. They being males has helped them become successful. Just when you think they already have an advantage over others, they also have something else going for them; they are male as well as a part of the upper class. As a result, their privileges far outweigh those of the “regular Americans”. Examples of this include, they do not have their intelligence questioned because they are male and white, and their ability to pay for something is never questioned, as they are in the upper class. To see how this relates to the American society, just look at who makes the rules in the country; the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, who also happen to be made up mostly of white males from the upper class. Unfortunately, these rules more benefit the dominant group, who happen to be these white, upper class males, and are revised to ensure the dominant group remains in power. However, each person in the United States, no matter your race, gender or social status, must abide by these rules. Similarly to in real life, Alan and Jake benefit greatly from this, while other characters in the show suffer. Therefore, the show attempts to show both sides of society and how the social classes treat each other; the good and the bad.
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One can therefore see that “Two and a Half Men” is a sitcom that can be enjoyed by various age groups, from teenagers to adults. You are guaranteed to laugh at least a few times during each episode. However, behind the humor there are hidden meanings. Some of which include sex and gender issues, gender role and construction, racial and cultural examples, and an attempt to influence gender identity, particularly with Jake.
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